Weekly Wine Wroundup: January 17th-January 31st

[List continues.]
‘Hey, wait, that’s two weeks!’, you say. Yes, well, I forgot my notebook at work last Tuesday so here I am. Fun stuff.

Anyhoo, some lovely wines (and a tasting!) in the past weeks, let’s dive right in.

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Wednesday, January 17th.

All right, starting out with a fun one–a pinot noir the Casablanca Valley in Chile, of all places. Forgot to take a picture, so alas, none here, but some pertinent info? 100% Pinot, 13.5% ABV, full name: Villard, Expressión Reserve, 2016. Wish I could tell you the price, but this bottle had been dropped off by a rep earlier that day; roughly $10 would be my guess.

Color was almost cherry, a bit of pink around the edges. Light body (it’s a pinot, go figure).
The nose was possibly the most bizarre aspect of the bottle. Almost … manure-like? Barnyard, some savory flavor I couldn’t place. I had a customer describe it as ‘wet stuff on soil’, which seemed apt. Really strange, pretty off-putting smell.
The approach was fairly tight, with the earthiness seemingly concentrated. Though there were some spots of bright fruit.
Midpalette was fairly innocuous, thought the fruit was really starting to bloom.
By the time it got to the finish, all the fruit appeared! Tart cherries, some darker stuff, too–blackberries? They were lovely, really sat at the back of your throat. Not the longest finish I’ve ever expereinced, but not bad either.
Final thoughts could basically be summed with, ‘good, but unusual’. I have to be clear, I was really struggling with the front end. ‘manure-like’ is not the ideal adjective to describe a wine with. The finish was good, though, and it was likely the first pinot I’ve had from Chile!

Thursday, January 18th.

An Entre-Deux-Mers from Bordeaux (it’s a white).

My thoughts on that bottle (and the first Thrifty Thursday!) can be found here!

… Saturday, January 20th.

Sparkling wine this time around. This one is coming from the AOC Crémant de Loire, in the Loire Valley, shockingly. As you’ll remember from my bit about sparklers, a crémant is a French sparkling that’s not from Champagne, but still uses the champagne method. The Loire Valley crémants tend to be a touch less clean and brioche-y than champagne proper, but nevertheless possess their own distinct charm.

Full name: Cyrille Seuin, Crémant de Loire Brut Non Dose, Crémant de Loire, 2016. It’s 100% chardonnay (i.e., a blanc de blancs). 12.5% ABV. $25.

Very crisp on the nose. There are actually some of those classic toasty champagne notes, though it’s cut through with lemon. Cool.
Lovely fine bubbles on the approach, relatively subtle flavor.
The bubbles sit nicely on the mid-palette, neither overwhelming or too little.
It finishes a bit boozy, though still quite clean–and the lemon notes do continue to shine.
It’s a perfectly acceptable substitute for champagne on a budget, though I do wish the alcohol was slightly less pronounced on the finish.

Sunday, January 21st.

‘pwee-EE foo-MAY’ (don’t quote me on that), it’s a fun name to say.

You can tell my normal pen ran out of ink (fountain pens, even refillable, run out of ink fast) because my script switches from thicker, unreadable strokes, to thinner, unreadable strokes.

This guy is a white Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, essentially across the river. Since that description is about as specific as ‘The Empty Bottle reviewed a wine’, some specifics:

Full name: Marc Deschamps, Les Porcheronnes, Pouilly-Fumé, 2014. 100% sauvignon blanc. $20.

Pale straw color, with a richness, at the bottom of the glass.
Clean, fresh, floral on the nose. Like honey over apples.
Smooth mineral flavors come through on the mid-palette. The ‘gunflint’ becoming more pronounced.
The finish is well-balanced acidity. Just a subtle hint of yellow fruitiness. Excellcent acidity. ‘Short but sweet’ finish.

‘A broader, more expressive Sancerre’ certainly seems apt. More nuance and breadth of flavor than a clear, straightforward Sancerre. That being said, it nevertheless remains a characteristically French sauvignon blanc.
I think I prefer a Touraine overall, but this is a lovely change of pace.

Monday, January 22nd.

Oh, man! This is cool! I managed to get to a tasting for an all-too-short hour that Monday. The importer was Domaine Select, who import wine and spirits from all over the place–and who I’ve a fair bit of exeprience with, given that both of my shops use them as an importer.

While I’m certainly more familar with their wine selection, I was able to wander over to their spirits side for a quick peek at a few.  Alas, I didn’t have the time to take extensive notes on … anything, but here are some of the things I tasted, in no particular order:

– Cowbell Cellars, Pinot Noir, 2016 (?).
– Jax Cellars, from the Napa Valley. I tried their Single Vineyard Chardonnay, and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both 2016, I believe.
– Basically the entire selection of Champagne Philippe Gonet. Delicious.
– And this was a cool one–Famille Dupont Pays D’Auge Cask Finish Islay Whiskey. It was a Calvados aged in Islay Whiskey barrels. Enchanting apples, with a hit of peatiness. So delicious.

I gotta say, tastings are wild. Even almost six months in, it’s still kind of surreal that I can just wander in to one, with all of a ‘yeah, I work at a few stores’–and I’m in! While I’m sure there are a few unscrupulous people who pretend to be workers, it’s neat that it essentially works on the honor system.
It was also, you know, good wine, too. I was there with an industry friend who reps for a rum that I sell, and we had a brilliant time working through the wines–and just those few touches of liquor!

Definitely need to make it out to more of those.

Mid-post hump? Here’s a pic of Monty, he definitely doesn’t want what I got.

[I’m thinking I didn’t exactly make the effort to try new wines most of the past new week, so the next wine would be on the Frappato on the 25th.]

… Sunday, January 28th.

Fun grape, often used as an accompaniment to oysters: jacquere. Also a great mouth-feel kind-of name.

This one in particular is: Philippe Ravier, Les Abymes, Vin de Savoie, 2016. 100% Jacquere. 11.5% ABV. $15.

The grapes are grown in the Alps (so not as luxuriously soaked in sun and rain as, say, Bordeaux), but grown on South facing slopes. So what little sun there is to be had in Savoie, these grapes get.

Nose and color are both quite delicate, with a noticeably pale yellow, and perhaps the slightest hints of flowers and … pear?
Approach is delicate and subtle.
Mid-palette is well-balanced and smooth. Polite.
The finish is short, with just a tiny, tiny touch of sweetness (honey-like). Lovely acid.

Quiet, lovely wine. It’s not the most expressive wine I’ve ever drank, but it’s good in the glass, and makes you want to take another bite (that’ll be the acid at work). ‘Polite’ I think is the best descriptor.

… Tuesday, January 31st.

Largely because of one bottle of Etna Bianco I had months ago, I have this perception of white Italian wine as being particularly savory and salty. Turns out, that’s not universally the case (‘However …’), but with this one it definitely is.

Popolo di Indie, Bianco del Popolo, 2016. 100% Cortese. 12.5% ABV. $20.

Even-bodied, full yellow. Savory, fleshy fruit and a touch of sea salt on the nose.
The approach has a touch of subtle plushiness.
The mid-palette is very fleshy, muscular, and full. Saltiness and just a touch of piquancy.
The finish is salty. Savory, plush fruit.

It’s a muscular, characteristic white. Would be absolutely stellar with seafood dishes–a shrimp scampi springs to mind.

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Wines that I probably drank but have no distinct memory of because I didn’t write them down.

Petit Canet, syrah/carignan/grenache blend. A bit more aggressive and punchy than that blend usually is, which is a classic Côtes-du-Rhône blend.

That Caves de la Tourangnelle Touraine, which I’ve mentioned several times. It’s kind of my ‘background white’.

Several cans of Underwood–The Bubbles, which is a perfectly agreeable sparkling chardonnay coming out of Oregon. A bit ham-fisted with the ‘we’re better than other wine-makers because we put our wine in cans’, but otherwise mostly harmless.

I tried a Gamay (using carbonic maceration, no less!) from Touraine called Terres Blondes. I was … unimpressed. It was perfectly fine, but I wasn’t stunned by its quality. Very fruit forward (shocker!) and somewhat grapey. Fresh and fruit-foward. Who knows, maybe I just wasn’t feeling it that day.

There was bit of a rushed tone to my post last Thrifty Thursday, due to making a full meal for seven or so people. But I also ordered in (another) bottle of the Chenonceaux, as well as the Moillard chardonnay which I unfortunately failed to take a picture of. Lovely, crisp, mineral chardonnay from France. Great stuff. Also that night was a bottle of the Orenia, a viogner/grenache blanc/roussane blend, which is wonderfully full and round in the mouth.
The picture up at front has a bottle of what may very well be one of my favorite bottles overall in the two stores–Cru Haut Valoir. It’s the classic Rhône blend I mentioned above, but with the subtle addition of mourvèrdre. It adds an entirely new dimension–as does the extra decade in-bottle. A 2005 for $25? Yes, please! Ridicuously good, complex-but-approachable, dangerously drinkable, beautiful stunning label French red wine. Nothing I can complain about. One of the first wines I’ve seriously considered getting a full case of. For the main course, we had the Birichino old-vine cinsault out of California. In a similar vein to the Haut-Valoir, stunning clarity and expression of terroir out of Lodi. A lovely accopaniment to Chicken with Forty Cloves, which is one of my absolute favorite chicken preparations–couple hours of marinanting with garlic and herbs, toss in an earthenware casserole, at 300° for an hour and forty-five or so … jaw-droppingly tender chicken and garlic that spreads like butter. Mmm …

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I think that about wraps it up for this week–keep your eyes up for Thrifty Thursday tomorrow, I’m excited to see what I can find.

As always, may your glass ever be full!

Thrifty Thursday: Château Allégret, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2013.

When someone says, “Bordeaux”, what do you think of? Is it the shockingly well-structured cabernets, or the lush merlots that have the same mouth feel as the word ‘Bordeaux’–or perhaps the ‘iron fist wrapped in velvet’ that its pinot noirs embody?

Regardless of your particular favorite red Bordeaux–and whether or not you can drop $35,000 on a case of Château Pétrus–one does not think of white Bordeaux.

But this is the inaugural post of a weekly series, Thrifty Thursdays! Thrifties are going to focus on wine that can generously be described as ‘inexpensive’; bottles that cost under $10 each, as much I can manage. The purpose is twofold: one, to remind myself that bottles above $30 are not normal for most people, and two, to show how to find good (well, drinkable) wine when the budget is tight!

The bottle in question:

A nice-looking if not terribly innovative label.

The pertinent info:

Full Name: Château Allégret, Entre-Deux-Mers, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2013.
Grape(s): Sémillon (90%), sauvignon blanc (10%).
ABV: 12%.
Price (to the nearest $5): $5. And I want to clarify here, this wasn’t $6.5, or $7. This bottle was five dollars.

That’s the shocking thing about this bottle. Seriously. Five dollars. That’s absolutely fluffernutters. Just guessing here, if the warehouse I bought these from put a 30% markup on, which is fairly low for wine, you’re looking at a $25-30 case of wine. That’s ridiculous.

How can you get a French white for $5, in New York City? That’s actually a great question, and I assume it was because the store got a good deal with their importer. But! There are also historical reasons why white Bordeaux is cheaper than its darker siblings.

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The first thing to know Bordeaux wine is that its classification is incredibly complicated. There are people who can label every cru and sub-cru, who know why Château Palmer is pronounced ‘Pall-MER’, instead of ‘pall-MAY’ (named after a British general under Wellington), and can name the fourteen preeminent châteaus–point is, it’s really complicated and would take an ungodly amount of time to explain. That being said, Entre-Deux-Mers is a large forested AOC between the rivers Garonne and Dordogne. Its soil is largely alluvial, or a mix between sand and dirt. This is not the most ideal soil for growing wine in, and thus the AOC does not have as vaunted reputation as the other more-well-known Bordeaux AOCs.

Incidentally, though Entre-Deux-Mers does make red wine, it is classified as ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Bordeaux Supérieur’–the most generic, and least specific classification of Bordeaux. Wines labelled Entre-Deux-Mers (such as the one above) are always dry white wines. In fact, you cannot make sweet wine in E-D-M; all white bearing that label must have less four grams of residual sugar per liter (that’s another thing about Bordeaux, to be able to use the name of a given appellation, you must follow extremely strict guidelines for your wine).

I’ll draw a bit on The Wine Bible here:

Although it is a large wine region and a picturesque one, the wines are generally very simple and never as high-quality as the wines of the Médoc, Graves, Pomerol, or St.-Émillon (MacNeil).

That’s a succinct way of putting it. The wines of Entre-Deux-Mers are often simply la plupart du temps inoffensifs.

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This particular wine caught my eye because it was in the ‘bargain’ section–always a chance at finding a diamond in the rough. I tend to stay away from wines that are always cheap, because that means that they are necessarily produced cheaply.
Additionally, I tend to stay away from grapes that I don’t know, or sound like off-brands of more common grapes. For instance, at the store today, I saw several bottles that were made entirely from ‘pinot blanc’. It turns out, per the Great Grape Grimoire, it’s actually a perfectly respectable member of the pinot family, primarily known in Alsace, Germany and Austria (in the latter, it is especially respected as a good grape for trockenbeerenauslesen, the legendary sweet wine). Regardless of me actually doing my research, you’ll see grapes like ugni blanc, which is largely used for flabby, uninteresting jug wines.
One of the many qualities of really well-known grapes such as cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay is that they have a cultural character–’this is what this wine is supposed to taste like’, which discourages winemakers who are making inexpensive wines from experimenting too much. Thus, inexpensive wine tends to be predictable–which I would argue is its best quality. As with the bottle I’m drinking right now, I wasn’t expecting it to be amazingly innovative–and it wasn’t. But that is vastly preferable to a wine that attempts to be interesting and ends up … simply bad. With inexpensive wines, my bar for success is, ‘drinkable and predictable’. That is the ideal space for inexpensive wines to occupy.

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With that said, I’d say this bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers absolutely qualifies. I was actually shocked at how good this wine is. It’s not incredibly complex, but it embodies the character of the grapes, and is more than drinkable.

I would like to reiterate that $5 for a decent bottle of wine is crazy prices pretty much … anywhere. Honestly, especially in the city. That is shockingly cheap for more-than-okay wine.

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Tasting Notes

Nose
– Quite subtle. Fresh. Very quiet yellow fruit.

Approach
– A bit tart–green apples, perhaps?

Mid-palette
– The tartness evens out–definitely green apple, maybe a hint of pineapple/citrus?

Finish
– Long, tart fruit. Good acid. Very dry and mineral.

Thoughts?
– That is a shockingly good wine for the price. Like, I’m shocked that it’s this good, and not mind-numbingly boring. Capital job.

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I was a bit taken aback at the quality-to-price ratio when I was tasting, thus the tone.

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Seriously. Search your bargain bins. Sometimes it’s just the last few bottles of expensive wine that need to go, but sometimes it’s a bottle that the owner got a great deal on and can drop the price by a solid 25%. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. There’s value at looking at the bargain bin even if you don’t need to buy at that price point. It’s always such a joy to find a good wine at a great price.

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Bibliography

Macneil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd edition. Workman Publishing Company, October 13, 2015.

Robinson, Jancis, et al. Wine Grapes. HarperCollins, September 24th, 2014.

Wikipedia contributors. “Entre-Deux-Mers.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 Jan. 2018.

“Mostly Harmless” Wines

A corkscrew, it says, is about the most massively useful thing a wine-drinker can have …

More importantly, a corkscrew has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a bourb (bourb: a non-wine-drinker) discovers a wine-drinker has his corkscrew with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a wine glass, a decanter, corks, hors d’œuvres, apertifs, viticultural guides, root clippers, champagne stoppers, tea towels, tasting notes, sommelier certification, etc. etc. Furthermore, the bourb will then happily lend the wine-drinker any of these or a dozen other items that the wine-drinker might accidentally have “lost”. What the bourb will think is that any man who can drink his way through the mags and casks of the world, rough it, slum it, occasionally open a corked bottle, win through, and still know where his corkscrew is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

– Double-glass Adams, Wine-Drinker’s Guide to the Graperies

In a revelation that may come as a shock to a few of you, I spend a lot of time thinking about wine. I work in the industry six out of seven days of the week, I’m constantly trying new wines, I need to be able to distinguish between several hundred wines at any given time–it is, in fact, my job.

And as anyone with a job can tell you, sometimes that job can get tiring. And sometimes, even if you love your job and are good at it, you’d like to stop thinking about it for just a bit. Not necessarily completely shutting that part of your brain off, but at least have it chilling on a burner several rows back (side note, kitchen ranges with 6+ burners rock).

Problem is, at least for me, it can be really difficult to stop thinking about wine in a professional way. Moreover, there can also be pressure to leave that part on, because people bring wine to parties, and, ‘oh, hey, you do wine! what do you think of this bottle?’ And don’t get me wrong (especially people who have brought me wine before, please keep doing it, I really do enjoy it and it’s very kind of you)–that’s fun to do with a wine you didn’t pick out yourself for once.

But there’s a certain category of wine that I buy for myself occasionally that is not necessarily … the best wine. It’s not wine that I’d bring to impress someone. It’s not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not the most amazing wine I’ve ever had, either. Their primary characteristic, of course, is that they are Mostly Harmless.

“… all that’s left is me and the words, Mostly harmless.”

What exactly do I mean by that? Here’s a (somewhat) succinct list of adjectives I associate with “Mostly Harmless”.

  • unobjectionable
  • inoffensive
  • innocuous
  • quaffable
  • agreeable
  • polite
  • not terribly interesting
  • un-challenging
  • tasty

These are wines that, simply put, don’t offer enough interest for me to have to think about them. Pinot grigios often fall into this category, as well as rosés. They are wine that is meant to be gulped, at some point, not to have an exhaustive list of their tasting notes written down and transcribed. At the end of the day, these are wines that are created for pure enjoyment–and to help everyone drinking them get a little fuzzy around the edges.

And to be one-hundred-percent clear, I really don’t think that a wine like that is inherently worse than a ‘prestigious’ wine–they’re just trying to do very different things. Think of ‘enjoyable’ and ‘interesting/challenging’ as the x and y axes. There are wines that are both uninteresting and un-enjoyable ($8 mag of moscato from the gas station) and wines that are both interesting and enjoyable. Mostly harmless wines fall into the ‘uninteresting but enjoyable’ category, and that is a lovely space to occupy.

The reason I drink them is so that I don’t have to think so critically about a wine for once. Even with more complicated wines I know well–like sau blancs from the Loire Valley–I still have to think about them. I’m still comparing them to other examples of the same, to the jacquere I had earlier that week–with the Blanc Pescador, none of that really happens. Have you ever heard someone described as ‘nice’? It doesn’t really mean anything. Most people are ‘nice’ the first time you meet them. That’s what the Pescador embodies–it’s nice. Does it really get my gears cranking? No, but I’d drink it over some other bottles I’ve had–and I don’t hesitate in pulling it off the shelf. Pretty dry, good fruit, just a touch of bubbles. Reminds me of the sea and the old Spanish fishermen who drink barrels of this on their siestas. Lovely.

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With apologies to Douglas Adams.